Svalbard - Part Two

S V A L B A R D

Part one of this blog (click the link on this page if you missed it) ended with us anchored for the night on a huge slab of ice, a few days into the trip and, despite the tireless efforts of our guides, still with no sightings of a Polar bear. This was all about to change…a female bear and a really young cub had been spotted on the shoreline! They were very distant but we might’ve hit the jackpot!

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This female bear and her cub actually weren’t the first bears we’d laid eyes on. We did catch sight of another bear (possibly a young male), just before we came across these two. Unfortunately, at the first distant sight and sounds of the ship, he scarpered to the horizon - proof that not all Polar bears are bold and unafraid of humans. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Being somewhere as remote and relatively free of human influence as Svalbard, means you can come across bears who haven’t ever interacted with humans before and we are pretty scary to them. It would be a challenge to approach this mother and her cub and we had to be super respectful and so did so cautiously and very slowly. Fingers crossed, we launched the zodiacs a good distance from the shoreline and hoped for some good luck…

Gradually we edged closer to the bears, the zodiac engines barely ticking over, and stopped at a respectful distance, so as not to disturb them (the images above are crops of 700mm equiv). It was looking like we’d definitely hit the jackpot and that our mother had not only come across humans before but had no fear, or actually any real interest at all, in us! They were both sleeping off a recent gorging session on a seal kill - the scene around the bears was a bit gory but it’s just what meat eaters do! The little that was left of the carcass was surrounded by squabbling Glaucous gulls. A bird that would send local UK birding groups excitedly in search for their binoculars, were everywhere here!

Our cub eventually woke up and wandered away from its mother for a quick snack…

Once the cub had had its fill, it returned to its mother. Its face was now absolutely covered in blood - not exactly the picture of cuddly bear cuteness we were hoping to be able to photograph but what can you do! After another snooze (bears, like other big predators, rest A LOT), the mother woke up, had a bite to eat and it was time to be on the move - sadly, now they were both completely bloodied and looked like something out of your bear nightmares!

After hours of barely no action at all, at least they were both up together and walking…

…or so we thought. The walk lasted about 100 yards and then the cub decided it had had enough. The mother knew there was no point in pressing on anymore for the moment, so it was time for another sleep! That was our cue to leave them in peace, after a really memorable encounter and my first time spent in the wild company of Planet Earth’s largest land predator. Absolutely incredible. We all boarded back onto the Stockholm in really high spirits, hopeful that we might catch up with our mother and cub again in the coming days. To find out if everything turned out as we hoped, check back later in the week for Part Three…